Beyond set rules

Much of the education of an aspiring entrepreneur involves acquiring processes and methods. Most of them are a product of someone’s success captured in a formula or framework. An example is that of the business model canvas, a template for understanding the logic of a business; how a business runs and makes money. One can say that this is the condensed form of a business plan. Another example is that of a vision statement, where the formula goes like this: tell us where your business is in 5 or 10 years, use words such as to be number 1, leading or best, and state the area or location where this will happen. Do not get me wrong, these are all good and useful, however, more is needed in running a serious business. What else, aside from processes and formula are needed?

Let me introduce you to Bruno Munari an artist, designer, and inventor. He is best known for his “Useless Machine” artwork. Pablo Picasso considers him as the modern da Vinci. One can understand Munari’s design philosophy from this statement:
“Today it has become necessary to demolish the myth of the ‘star’ artist who only produces masterpieces for a small group of ultra-intelligent people. It must be understood that as long as art stands aside from the problems of life it will only interest a very few people. Culture today is becoming a mass affair, and the artist must step down from his pedestal and be prepared to make a sign for a butcher’s shop (if he knows how to do it). The artist must cast off the last rags of romanticism and become active as a man among men, well up in present-day techniques, materials and working methods. Without losing his innate aesthetic sense he must be able to respond with humility and competence to the demands his neighbors may make of him.

The designer of today re-establishes the long-lost contact between art and the public, between living people and art as a living thing. … There should be no such thing as art divorced from life, with beautiful things to look at and hideous things to use. If what we use every day is made with art, and not thrown together by chance or caprice, then we shall have nothing to hide.”

It was that statement that made me interested more in him because this statement can also be said about entrepreneurs today, and I thought that maybe we can learn a thing or two from him which we can relate to business. This is what I found from one of his essays:
“The secrets of any trade that is pursued with serious intentions are more than a series of rules and working methods based on logic and experience and applied so as to obtain the greatest possible effect with the least amount of effort. They also include a continuous process of observations, thoughts and ideas that are pushed ahead even if at the beginning they seem to have no logical basis.”

Munari’s statement tells us that aside from set of rules, or formula, one must also include observation, thoughts, ideas and action even if it seems illogical. The important element in his statement is observation and illogical action. First, observation. Based on his essay, he said that observation can stimulate deeper research. So, it is the ability to observe that gives rise to thoughts and ideas.

One day, Munari was driving, and he saw a bush and quickly observed. This observation triggered different images in his mind. The form of the bush reminded him of an exploding grenade. Then explosion triggered the image of fireworks which he then related to the growth of a tree.

Observation begins by watching something carefully and understanding the characteristics and behavior or something. The purpose of observation is to gather information and turn that information into something useful. In the case of Munari, the ideas became an essay, or it may have inspired his future artworks.

In business, one use of observation is understanding customers’ behavior; how they eat, what they do before they eat, what they do after they eat. In the famous case of Jollibee, it was observed through research that Filipinos smell their food before they eat and that gave birth to the famous “Langhap Sarap” tag line. The point is, by deliberately not relying on set of rules, adding observation and thoughts, it can bring about new ideas and insights.

Observation is so powerful that it is part of the famous Toyota Production system. One of their principles is called Genchi Genbutsu, which means go see for yourself. The idea is that the people do have to be in the place where things are happening to be able to see, observe and gather information.

One of the products of observation is Toyota Sienna. A Japanese engineer went to the US to study how families use their vans. To do this, he brought his family and went coast to coast by road. After weeks on the road, he reported his information and ideas. The result was a bigger leg room on the second row so that children will have space for their toys and other essential items. This simple change made Sienna an award-winning van.

The previous examples I gave have a logical basis since those doing the study were directly observing and having firsthand experience. What could be a business that was pushed even if the ideas born out of observation seemed illogical? Netflix mailed VHS to people at a time when people were used to going to Blockbuster Video to borrow and return movies. Another example is Pet Rock. It literally is a pet rock. An example or a stupid and illogical idea that sold millions of units in its first few months. These 2 examples were illogical, yet they became successful and I am sure that there are many others out there.

Business methods and formulas are there to serve as a guide, but those who are seriously committed to the business, must include continuous observation, thoughts, ideas and of course action even if there seem to be no logical basis. Who knows? That illogical idea may be the next Netflix or Pet Rock.

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